As many other people, I’m absolutely appalled by the announcement that the BBC and the UK’s other main broadcasters will host a leaders’ debate in the run-up to the General Election that includes the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and UKIP, but neither the Green parties nor the SNP.
This is simply ludicrous! I blogged recently about how the pollsters should stop treating Great Britain as one unit, given that the party political systems are very different. In Scotland, the SNP is either the incumbent or the main challenger in most constituencies, and UKIP is nowhere to be seen.
The purpose of a leaders’ debate is to guide people on what to vote, and this selection of parties gives voters in Scotland the misguided idea that UKIP is more of a real party than the SNP. It’s barking mad!
On the other hand, I can understand that people in England don’t really think it’s very relevant to see Nicola Sturgeon in such a debate, given that they cannot vote for her party.
At the same time, the BBC’s idea about a Scottish debate simply doesn’t makes sense, because they want to invite the people leading their parties at Holyrood. However, the Westminster election is about the non-devolved subject areas (e.g., foreign policy, the military and pensions) — exactly the ones that the Holyrood politicians don’t have any influence on.
I hope the BBC and the other broadcasters will change their minds as a matter of priority, but the best way to avoid failures like this in the future is to get full devolution of broadcasting, so that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can have completely separate debates hosted by their national broadcasters.
In this way, the English leaders’ debate could include whoever they thought were important (and that might include UKIP), but the Scottish debate would replace the English debate, not supplement it, and so the debate up here would most likely include Nicola Sturgeon (or maybe the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson), David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and perhaps somebody from the Scottish Green Party, and everybody would be happy.
If broadcasting doesn’t get devolved, I guess the SNP will need to start putting up candidates in most English seats, even if it leads to a lot of lost deposits, simply so that it cannot be dismissed as a mere regional party.